Cinema | March 17th, 2023
By Kay Erickson
For years, movies have successfully transported audiences to different dimensions and universes. There are stories to explore, characters to meet and root for, and people to connect with who share a similar passion for cinematic storytelling.
From the dark tones of “A Dire Strait” (directed by Liang-Chun Lin) and its look at motherhood to the isolating world of "Light Leak” (directed by Nate Dorr), films are able to grasp a viewer and allow them to suspend their disbelief. The impossible becomes possible, and before you know it, a film has changed someone’s thoughts on a subject or their view of the world.
2023’s Fargo Film Festival – which takes place from March 21 to 25 – has plenty of thought-provoking and powerful films that will be screened at the glorious Fargo Theatre. This year’s festival will be a place to go to to talk about films, discuss their meanings, connect with other movie lovers, and more. There is a spot for every actor, filmmaker and avid movie-watcher to join in on the conversation.
Many of the members of the large volunteer corps assist in a variety of different positions at the Fargo Film Festival and every jury member has certain movie picks they are most excited to see with an audience. Along with the films are other events that connect the volunteers to both viewers and to the visiting filmmakers – many of which are coming to Fargo for the first time.
“We have a lot of filmmakers coming, which adds such depth to the screenings,” says Fargo Film Festival co-chair and filmmaker Janet Brandau.
Director Emily Sheskin and producer Ben Kainz, representing the film “JessZilla” at one of its first public showings, will be in attendance this year as the opening night showcase. They will speak about the brilliant documentary feature during a Q & A conversation immediately following the film on the evening of March 21.
Sean Volk, development and engagement manager at the Fargo Theatre, also serves as a programmer for the Fargo Film Festival. Volk is also ready to see “JessZilla,” as it follows the riveting story of a young girl training to become a boxer.
“I love this film: I laughed, I cheered, and I cried the first time I watched it,” Volk states. As the movie unfolds, it allows the viewers to become invested in the principal subjects and their journey. Volk is also excited for the Q & A that will follow the movie, as it will be a chance to ask questions, inquire about the movie, and get to know the makers of the film.
Along with “JessZilla,”, Volk is one of many FFF participants ready to welcome Mike Flanagan and Kate Siegel as special guests who will also be attending the festival. Flanagan and Siegel have worked on horror movies and major episodic series, including “The Haunting of Hill House,” together.
One of their biggest and most well-known hits is “Hush,” which stars Siegel. The slasher film, which Siegel wrote with Flanagan, follows the life of a writer who is also deaf. To her surprise, a masked murderer ends up at the doorstep of her secluded place in the woods.
Fargo Theatre Executive Director Emily Beck, who describes herself as “a massive Flanaverse fan,” is also ready for the conversation with Flanagan and Siegel.
Through the late MSUM film professor Tom Brandau, Beck met Mike Flanagan when he attended the 2011 Fargo Film Festival for the world premiere of his feature film “Absentia.” Beck talks about how his and Kate Siegel’s collaborations through the years have been one of the greatest creative partnerships.
“Flanagan’s horror leads with its heart,” Beck states. “It has been so exciting to see his work evolve and to see him achieve such remarkable success.”
Flanagan and Siegel will be talking about their careers and the projects they have both worked on in an on-stage conversation that will make up the festival’s closing night showcase at 7:00pm on Saturday, March 25.
On the topic of horror films, Michael Stromenger, a video producer at Border States in Fargo and the chair of the Narrative Short jury, has an interest in some of the darker narrative shorts that will be screened this year.
“A Dire Strait” and “Kassandra” are two of the narrative short category’s honorable mentions. They both share similar tones, with plots that are interesting and attention-grabbing. “Kassandra follows a group of girls on a swim to a remote island that turns deadly,” Stromenger explains.
“The Diamond” is a film that follows a man who finds a diamond in the ground in the woods, another film that Stromenger is excited to screen with viewers. Stromenger states that the movie “is a surreal comedy that is impossible to predict.”
With a love of film that began with him wearing out VHS copies of the original “Star Wars” trilogy when Stromenger was young, he has always been a storyteller. The passion for film grew over the years when he got to be a little older, and now he is happy for what the Fargo Film Festival offers the community.
“There is truly an embarrassment of riches in this category this year and I can't wait for audiences to finally see these films,” Stromenger states.
Tom Speer, one of the festival co-chairs and the current Fargo Theatre Board of Directors President, also served on the Narrative Short jury and echoes Stromenger’s interest in “The Diamond” and “Kassandra.” This year marks the 15th year that Speer has volunteered for the festival and he is confident “The Diamond” will have audience members laughing out loud.
He also notes that “Kassandra” “is visually stunning and has a style unlike anything I've seen at the festival before.”
Another filmmaker ready for the Fargo Film Festival is Kyja Kristjansson-Nelson. Kristjansson-Nelson has been teaching film production at MSUM for the last 17 years and is currently serving as the Interim Dean for the College of Arts & Humanities. This year she is serving the Fargo Film Festival as the jury chair for the Experimental category.
The one film that really sticks out to her is “Light Leak” by Nate Dorr. The film is the category winner. During the movie, the viewer is forced to stay isolated from the outside world and is only able to learn more about what’s going on through memories and photo slides. Kristjansson-Nelson compares the feeling to the lives and existences of people during the pandemic, when businesses and areas were shut down and the forced isolation and solitude of the pandemic hit its hardest wave on society.
Despite the challenges of isolation and the pandemic, Kristjansson-Nelson is glad that the festival is entirely in-person. She notes, “I love the Fargo Film Festival because it brings our community together through the power and language of cinema.”
Animation jury chair Greg Carlson also serves as the festival’s Projects Producer. Since the early days of the festival, the professor and director of the film studies minor at Concordia College has produced the popular 2-Minute Movie Contest, which screens several dozen very short movies, one after another, in a single session.
This year, the 2-Minute Movie Contest will be held on Thursday evening following the showcase screening of Mike Scholtz and Marius Anderson’s documentary “Iron Opera,” about an annual music production on Minnesota’s Iron Range.
Scholtz, a well-known regional filmmaker who has screened in the Fargo Film Festival many times over the years, identifies the Fargo Theatre as his favorite place to see a movie.
Carlson also thinks of the Fargo Theatre as his “home away from home,” and looks forward to several of the animated shorts that represent a wide variety of styles and techniques, including hand-drawn 2D, computer-generated imagery, and classic stop-motion. He has chaired the animation category many times over the years.
“I admire the incredible work ethic of world-class animators,” Carlson says. “From the emotional power on display in ‘The Record’ to the use of metaphor in ‘Night of the Living Dread’ to the intimate perspectives explored in ‘I’m Late,’ there are so many great films you don’t often get the opportunity to see in a gorgeous movie palace.”
The fortunate ones who managed to secure a ticket to Friday night’s “The Princess Bride: An Inconceivable Evening With Carey Elwes” are looking forward to a viewing of the beloved movie followed by an on-stage appearance and the sharing of stories from the star who played Westley. Like a number of special events hosted as part of the Fargo Film Festival in past years, the Friday evening showcase is completely sold out.
But do not despair, film fanatics! The 2023 Fargo Film Festival has tickets available for sessions on mornings, afternoons, and evenings that will be filled with the creative work of students, documentarians, animators, and live-action directors. These filmmakers, from novices to seasoned veterans, approach the craft with everything they’ve got.
Visit fargofilmfestival.org or the Fargo Theatre box office for more information. We will see you at the festival, March 21-25 !
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